Wake up daily to our latest coverage of business done better, directly in your inbox.


Get your weekly dose of analysis on rising corporate activism.


The best of solutions journalism in the sustainability space, published monthly.

Select Newsletter

By signing up you agree to our privacy policy. You can opt out anytime.

Leon Kaye headshot

Plant-Based Foods Are Shaping Up, Out, Flat and Curved

Taco Bell has taken another step in its ongoing plant-based dance, this time with a new take on its chalupa menu item in Orange County.
By Leon Kaye

They’ve long had a vegetarian menu, have had on- and off- and then on-again flirtations with potatoes, and thereby considering the fast food industry’s overall reputation, Taco Bell locations have long been the plant-based go-to choice for many vegetarians and even vegans.

While other chains have hopped aboard the plant-based filling bandwagon, Taco Bell has been one notable holdout, though evidence suggests that is changing with some of the brand’s recent dalliances, such as a recent one with Beyond Meat.

Now Taco Bell has taken another step in its plant-based dance, this time with a pilot that just wrapped up, literally, in Orange County with its popular chalupa menu item.

In case you don’t know what a chalupa is, that is understandable, as the editorial board did not know either and therein the team undertook some extensive research. For Taco Bell, a chalupa is a fried flatbread, similar to  Navajo fried bread or funnel cake, only it’s curved like a gringo hard-shell taco and packed with fillings of your choice. And for those on a keto or high-protein kick, there’s another option available at times, one for which the fried shell is made of chicken meat and the fillings include cheese, vegetables and sauces. Think of it as an inside-out taco, only that it truth it really isn’t.

“Oh, those? They are made from fried masa (cornmeal) and then filled with whatever,” said a Mexican-American friend of 3p in an email exchange. “Pretty sure they are originally from Oaxaca in the south, but maybe another state, and while they are supposed to be boat-shaped, they are usually flat, like an American-style tostada.”

If Google Translate is your phrasebook of choice, you’ll find the English translation for chalupa,  as in “shallop,” which is a light sailboat generally only used in shallow waters.

Okay, so what does all this history have to do with potential plant-based options at Taco Bell? Bottom line, the company has been testing out a plant-based chalupa shell made from pea protein. So, if you want that protein fix from a chicken shell but wish to have none of the guilt, there is a chance this could be a future menu item at a Taco Bell near you.

For now, this American Vegetarian Association-approved fake chicken, pea protein, plant-based taco shell was only available until yesterday, June 27 (or until they ran out) at a location in Irvine, California (the one off the 405 and the 55, near the Costco). As of press time, the company has not committed to a company-wide rollout for this or other new plant-based protein items, but in a press release the company said it “remains excited about teaming up with Beyond Meat” as it considers ideas for new menu items.

Image credit: Taco Bell

Leon Kaye headshot

Leon Kaye has written for 3p since 2010 and become executive editor in 2018. His previous work includes writing for the Guardian as well as other online and print publications. In addition, he's worked in sales executive roles within technology and financial research companies, as well as for a public relations firm, for which he consulted with one of the globe’s leading sustainability initiatives. Currently living in Central California, he’s traveled to 70-plus countries and has lived and worked in South Korea, the United Arab Emirates and Uruguay.

Leon’s an alum of Fresno State, the University of Maryland, Baltimore County and the University of Southern California's Marshall Business School. He enjoys traveling abroad as well as exploring California’s Central Coast and the Sierra Nevadas.

Read more stories by Leon Kaye